A great concatenation of workmen today: the painters and the furniture deliverymen. Jasper was in high alert; Gnat was intrigued; I enjoyed the illusion that this was all free somehow, since no money changed hands. Only numbers on plastic, numbers on paper. If I’d had to count out the gelt I would have wept all day. The painters moved with deliberate skill, taping, draping, daubing. Gnat sat at her table and drew pictures of the painters, presenting them with priceless shyness. I stayed upstairs, struggling with this new pre-amp for Garageband (it does not work. It just simply does not work. Back to the store. Grr.) and finishing the two columns due this morning. I had the presence of mind to finish both columns last night, so minimal tweaking was necessary.

Around ten the deliverymen brought the new dining room table, the last step in my effort to make the dining room seem less like a florid cave. It’s always been dark; the wallpaper doesn’t help, and the light fixture – the 1915 original – is wholly inadequate to the task. I’m sure the room looked fine to folks in 1915. Apparently it looked fine to the previous owners of Jasperwood, who slathered the walls with dark ornate wallpaper. But it’s always been the one room in the house I avoid by instinct. The table is too woody. The walls are too woody. (The woodwork come up to a height of five and a half feet, and that’s a lot of wood.) The window faces south. Even in summer it seems like a place where crows roost when they want to nurse a hangover.

We’ll see what happens tomorrow, when the paper comes off and the paint goes up. Right now the kitchen / family room – where most of the Bleat and column work is done – is much brighter, and it has that new-paint glow. Why didn’t I do it myself?

Many reasons. I did all the renovations on the last house, and that meant stripping inch-thick gloppy wallpaper flesh from four rooms, ripping up all the carpet, painting all the rooms including the kitchen cabinets, sheetrocking the basement (and mudding and painting that, a job I did so wretchedly I didn’t install a lightbulb hotter than 20 watts down there, lest people see my crappy skim-coat job; it looked like Edward Olmos’ cheeks) and sponging my own studio in a sage-and-wheat look I stole from a Crate and Barrel catalog. The worst was the closet in the bedroom, which had layers of wallpaper that went back to the Coolidge era. I learned many things: 1) I can do that sort of thing. 2) I can do it, but poorly. 3) Book royalties, if banked, vanish into the numbers on the biweekly unread investment statements; if spent on hiring professionals, you enjoy them daily. On the other hand, you never see a drip of paint on a wall and think back to the afternoon you did the job, what was on the radio, how pleased you felt to be in the Great Good New Place, how your own imperfections made the place your own. On the other hand, you don’t have to be there when the next owner looks at the glob of paint on the cupboard, and thinks: incompetant.

I was showing Uncle Gary the new light fixture for the dining room tonight. He counseled me to keep the old original one. “The value of your house goes down with every original fixture you remove,” he reminded me. (He’s a realtor.) He has a point, but I’m still going to sell it.

Uncle Gary – my wife’s uncle – showed me Jasperwood in the late brash winter of 2001. He had some clients who wanted to buy a house in our old neighborhood, and showed them our manse on Girard to show them what was available in their price range. They decided they wanted our house. Well fine and good, but we live here. We had been thinking of moving, since any addition would cost a barillion dollars and take up all the backyard. One day he dropped by and said “let’s go look at houses.” The first cost six-tenths of a million dollars and had saggy floors. The second was Jasperwood. I knew I wanted it before we even left the entryway.

He lives in the burbs now, but he used to live right around the corner from Jasperwood. Every night I walk the pooch I pass the house where he lived with wife and son and daughter. Today I took the long way home from the office, because I love threading through the winding roads along the creek, and I saw two houses he showed me when we moved back in 94: the nice white number with the columns and broad lawn I almost bought, and a peculiar little hut whose interior was done entirely in slate blue, from the walls to the furniture to the brickwork around the fireplace to the carpet to the cheeks on the Hummel figurines. Today, I saw, it was for sale again. I would have mentioned that to him today, but telling a realtor about a house you looked at 11 years ago is like asking an old pilot to recall a particular cloud formation. You know, the white one. Really tall.

When he showed up tonight he looked out the kitchen window and said “that one’s for sale.” It was. We discussed the price. The interior. The square footage. It’s half a mil. Why these numbers daunt no one I don’t know; perhaps it’s just the elemental thrill of saying “I just bought something that cost HALF A MILLLLLION DOLLARS.” Somehow your indebtedness makes you feel rich. Realtors are anti-Bourbons, in a way; they know the cost of everything and its value as well.

He brought his son, his daughter, and her boyfriend. They came for the old table. I had disassembled it the previous night and stored it in the entryway; the chairs were in the living room. (This morning when the new table came, the chairs were stored next to the old ones: 12 chairs. I got out the video camera for the monthly movie and shot the profusion of chairs, whistling the theme from the Sorcerer’s Apprentice; someday I hope Gnat sees it and gets the joke.) We got the chairs down the steps, got the table top down, gently eased the bottom section down the long irregular steps.

“You let Jasper get out?” asked Uncle Gary’s son, noting how Jasper was just standing on the porch watching us. Their dogs tend to bolt and roam.

“He knows where the food is,” I said. “And who bestows it.”

Jasper trotted down the hill and sat down, watching us. No food or treats or play seemed likely, and his threat-detection system said ALL CLEAR. He looked down the hill, deployed the ears, sniffed the breeze, and enjoyed the night. I love to see him in that posture – calm, content, sampling the world, king of the hill.

Nothing gladdens the heart like the sight of a good dog in noble repose.

We got everything into the trucks. I was happy that the table found a home – Uncle Gary’s daughter had supped with us at this table, and now it would see her through the Interesting Twenties, a nice little upgrade from the obligatory door-on-construction-trestles that seem so romantic when you’re starting out. She’d have dinner parties, and a new generation of elbows would rest on the venerable wood; dogs yet unborn would sit patiently beneath the trestle and wait for scraps; when she married and had company over, the act of pulling the table apart and inserting the leaves would remind her of the last party, the last time she dressed up and daubed perfume to her throat and lit candles and walked around the house basking in that small but thrilling emotion that precedes a night with friends and food. And the table came from a house her father found, a house around the corner from the place where she grew up.

I waved everyone goodbye, bade Jasper to come, and went inside.

Looked at the new table. I love it.

The old table? Good riddance. The thing was like a frickin’ boat anchor.


(Screedblog up late tomorrow aft.)

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